Saturday, April 12, 2008


When Brooklyn quartet Yeasayer performed at the Black Cat Backstage in January, the show sold out quickly, leaving throngs of ticketless hipsters begging that the performance be moved to the larger stage upstairs. That didn't happen, but when the band returned to play the Cat's main stage on Thursday night, the crowds were again out in full force.

Yeasayer's brand of folk songs with tribal rhythms is reminiscent of Animal Collective with a more hippie bent. The new song "Tight Rope" featured three-voice singalongs of "aaahhhh" (with vocalist Chris Keating, guitarist Anand Wilder and bassist Ira Wolf Tuton) and rapid hand-clapped rhythms.

Keating was certainly impassioned. On "2080," and for most of the show, he jerked around the stage as if possessed by his songs, hunched over his microphone and oblivious to the audience, spewing lyrics as if speaking in tongues. It was almost disappointing when he paused between songs and talked just like a normal guy.

That was a notable difference from Animal Collective, whose early shows gained momentum as one long, constantly morphing piece. But Yeasayer's songs remained trance-inducing even with those breaks in its too-brief 50-minute set. The band didn't return for an encore, even though the crowd clamored for it to return for several minutes after the house music had been turned on.

-- Catherine P. Lewis

Joe Jackson

Joe Jackson began changing his pose from an angry nerd to a romantic nerd in the early 1980s. Fans cheered for both personas at the 9:30 club on Thursday.

Most of the set came from either Jackson's new disc, "Rain," or his early '80s commercial peak, "Night and Day." Now 53, Jackson flaunted his multiple personalities by carving a medley out of the old and bitter "Cancer" (with its what's-the-use hook: "Everything gives you cancer/There's no cure/There's no answer") and his new "King Pleasure Time," a tune that preaches the gospel of fun. He described the late-model "A Place in the Rain" as being "angry and humorous and romantic all at the same time."

Jackson, who sat behind a grand piano throughout the roughly 90-minute set, is touring with a duo that he and his audience know well: He's played with bassist Graham Maby and drummer Dave Houghton since his breakout "Look Sharp!" tour in 1979 (though Houghton did take a 22-year leave of absence from the gig beginning in 1980).

Houghton led the band on both a jazzy, bizarrely timed version of "It's Different for Girls" and a caffeinated lounge act rendering of "You Can't Get What You Want." Yet the ensemble's playing on "One More Time" and "On Your Radio" was as loud and rocky as a guitarless, mostly acoustic threesome (only Maby stayed plugged in) could render. The audience seemed more into "Is She Really Going Out With Him?" than did Jackson.

Jackson, however, was very involved on the few occasions when he strayed from his own songbook. He introduced David Bowie's 1980 gem, "Scary Monsters," as "a tribute to one of my musical heroes." And he also gave a couple shout-outs to the District's own Duke Ellington, throwing a few bars of the Ellington staple "Caravan" into a new arrangement of his own song from 1982, "Chinatown," and then covered Ellington's "Don't Get Around Much Anymore." Whether Jackson knew it or not, Sir Duke used to hold court at the Howard Theater, which still stands in disrepair just a few blocks away from the 9:30 club.

-- Dave McKenna

Felice Brothers and Justin Townes Earle

On Thursday, Iota hosted a pair of acts that exist in the shadow of preceding musical heavyweights. One does so by circumstance, the other by choice.

Justin Townes Earle's career path was pretty much determined the day his daddy Steve named him after one of his heroes, Townes Van Zandt. But unlike his famous father and middle-namesake, Earle is more old-time country than outlaw country. With a pomade-aided pompadour, aw-shucks attitude ("Thank yuh, now!" he said after most songs) and songs about hard livin' and being lonesome, the 25-year-old Nashville-based singer-songwriter harked back to the Dust Bowl folk of Woody Guthrie and Grand Ole Opry sounds of Hank Williams.

His songs weren't particularly rugged or nuanced, but succeeded thanks to a studied craftsmanship that may as well be intrinsic. As with any drumless act that plays the Arlington club, Earle was constantly on the verge of being drowned out by the notoriously chatty crowd; but with Cory Younts accompanying on mandolin, banjo and harmonica, he rose above the din to provide 40 minutes of old-fashioned fun.

To say headliners the Felice Brothers are influenced by Bob Dylan and the Band's "The Basement Tapes" is like saying human life is influenced by oxygen. The former simply doesn't exist without the latter. Most songs, such as "Frankie's Gun!" and "Ruby Mae," were variations on "Please, Mrs. Henry" or "Yea! Heavy and a Bottle of Bread," with the Felices (three of the five members are actual brothers) adding their own twist with accordion and washboard. The celebratory atmosphere the quintet created was more memorable than most of the actual songs, suggesting a bit more time in the basement might be for the best.

-- David Malitz

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